Millie's Drama Review: My Liberation Notes
Updated: Oct 27, 2022
Last week, over the long weekend, I finished watching My Liberation Notes, and to say the least my life truly has been changed. It is one of those series that lives in your mind even after you finish it, and continues to inspire you every single day. It feels almost like a docu-series, in that it really does mirror real life, and every single character is relatable to me or feels like someone I know.
What was beautiful about this drama was its relationship-building, its depth of each character, even the smaller ones, and most of all its overall execution of its message.
I started My Liberation Notes at the end of summer, looking for a way to pass time because I was so bored. But as I got more into it, I’ve found how much I love and relate to all of the characters.
The story centers around three siblings: Yeom Mijeong, Yeom Gijeong, and Yeom Changhee, and Gu, the mysterious carpentry assistant who lives with them. It revolves around how they seek to be liberated from their ordinary, mundane lives, each in their own unique way.
For Mijeong, our female lead and main character, that means finding self-love, as well as learning how to love someone unconditionally with her whole self, specifically our male lead Mr. Gu. Mijeong's older sister, Gijeong, learns to give up on societal expectations and limitations, and similar to Mijeong choose to love someone with her all regardless of rejection. Changhee, the middle child, learns to be okay with living an "ordinary" life, and follow his destiny rather than chasing an illusion of grandeur.
This drama is at times very comforting, but usually it is meaningfully uncomfortable, introducing poignant situations and addressing them the way that people would in real life. It breaks away from the idea of a distant, fantasy-like drama land where people react differently than how they would in reality, and instead focuses on not overblowing things.
For example, Mr. Gu, who works as a carpentry assistant to Mijeong's dad, is an alcoholic, but he does not act overwhelmingly drunk, nor does he act overwhelmingly rude. He is the portrayal of what alcoholism really looks like, and the difficulty of recovering from it. One meaningful scene was when Changhee and his neighborhood friend Duhwan found a room full of empty Soju bottles in Mr. Gu's house, and moved all of the bottles out for him thinking that they were helping to clean up his mess. But instead, Mr. Gu angrily told them to get out, and leave the bottles where they were. Later on, he confided in Mijeong the reason why: he spent his entire winter in that room, drinking, and collecting bottles. It was his way of seeing how far he had spiraled.
This drama makes you feel like you grew up in Sanpo alongside the three siblings, and their dynamics, personalities, and acting is just so real. I have never watched a show with characters that feel so much like real people who could be existing in my life.
At first, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to relate to this drama, or find it overly dramatic as there tends to be this trope where introverted or even just shy people in dramas are ONLY shy, and that is their singular personality trait that dictates their behavior in every single situation (think My Shy Boss or My ID is Gangnam Beauty).
To be honest, I thought that this show sounded more-or-less boring based off of the original premise, as "escaping mundaneness" meant first setting up what its like to live in mundaneness for 3-4 episodes. Furthermore, in slice-of-life shows like these, oftentimes writers draw out small situations or inconveniences to become over the top in how important they seemed to the characters. I can't even name how many dramas where the female lead often breaks down and requires help from the male lead because something relatively small happened, and it leaves viewers feeling disconnected because it really just doesn't reflect how a person would react in reality.
But to my delight and surprise, none of the above occurred in My Liberation Notes. Even when there were certain things that characters unreasonably fixated over, for example, Mijeong crying or feeling sad after always being humiliated and recieving negative feedback at work from her boss, Changhee's obsession with getting a car and extreme hatred of his coworker, and Gijeong's hyperfixation on her looks/appearance, it still felt very real to the characters and to me as a viewer.
And I believe that is because they took the time to really build and set up each character in the beginning, even if it was tedious and a bit boring at first. It was totally worth it to get to see them grow and change and shift over the following episodes as the action picked up, from watching Mijeong trying to find liberation to Gijeong trying to find love to Changhee just being hilarious but also trying to find inner peace with who he is.
All three of them remind me of myself in some way - I can feel the pain and hurt that Mijeong feels every time her ANNOYING, RAGE-INDUCING boss belittles her, and I can relate to Gijeong feeling unloveable and being in situations where you start to wonder if you truly are a redeemable, good enough human being. Most of all Changhee’s ambition to be great, to take as much as he can get, that is something that I can also understand - this endless feeling that I am the victim of every situation and have been since I was first born, that life has been unfair to me and now I have to catch up.
I also really enjoy how there isn’t any sugarcoating of the relationships. Many of them are simply just bad, but they’re real. I can understand the dynamic of the three siblings, in that they don’t particularly like each other’s personalities, but they have underlying love and loyalty towards each other. Even in their romantic relationships, I’m so so impressed with the way the writers built Mijeong and Gu’s relationship. It’s not just one dimensional or oversimplified, but it’s perfectly developed across many episodes and has its rises and falls, no matter how frustrating, as well as alternating evenly between Gu’s and Mijeong’s perspectives to keep the viewer updated on their differences in attitude etc.
There are so many ways to get wrong an “I can fix him” relationship, even in the “indie” way where the girl isn’t necessarily trying to fix him but just trying to love him for all that he is.
I think what really set this main couple apart from the other couples with this dynamic is the fact that their relationship isn’t linear. They have really good days, and other days where they’re so distant and far away from each other. Furthermore, every moment they’re together feels motivated and purposeful. They’re not just thrown together by circumstance, like many dramas do to their MCs (main couples), for example, Business Proposal or even 2521.
In every moment they are together, there is a valid reason for why they’re there. And furthermore, there is a deeper meaning under the surface that explains something about their relationship or about their personalities.
For example, during their first meeting after Mijeong asks Gu to worship her, they don't even speak or make eye contact.
Mijeong is walking home on the street, alone at night, and a group of questionable men see her and start to approach her. We see that Mijeong feels scared and stops, as they block her path to her house. But then, just as they are about to corner Mijeong, we hear the sound of Soju bottles clinking together. Mr. Gu is coming back from buying liquor at the convenience store, and although that would usually be an unpleasant sight, it brings comfort to Mijeong, saving her from a dangerous situation. With Gu walking behind her, she feels much more protected and is able to safely walk home. From this one scene, we can see symbolism for their entire relationship dynamic: even at his worst, even when he is grumpy and painful and at rock bottom, Gu is exactly what Mijeong needs, and able to save or should I say liberate her from her own life.
I also really liked how they first looked at the stray dogs together, and Mijeong was protecting Gu from it. Then, we have multiple scenes where Gu is attempting to get closer to the dogs, but Mijeong pulls him back. Especially after their fight/falling out, Gu goes back really drunk and the dogs are about to attack him when Mijeong saves him. However, he is angry at her for doing so. The next time we see the dogs, Gu sets up an umbrella for them. And finally, as Gu leaves Sanpo for good to return to his old life in Seoul, he drives past and catches a glimpse of the dogs getting locked up in cages by animal control.
This extended motif throughout the series in my opinion might represent Gu’s tendency to push away happiness, or his fear of being happy. They are sort of the "demons" of his mind that don’t allow him to be happy, showing up to drive a ridge between him and Mijeong.
Another possibility is that the wild dogs represent Gu himself, something that is both dangerous but also desperate to be loved. When Gu is fighting with Mijeong and the dogs almost bite him to death, it might represent that his inner "demons" are taking over him, and that would make sense as to why Mijeong was able to scare them away and save him. On the other hand, as Gu drives back towards his old life in soul, he is symbolically being caged up again, just as the dogs are getting caged up by animal control. And when he was happiest with Mijeong, he gave the dogs an umbrella, sort of caring for himself in that way.
Anyways, I could talk about the dog symbolism for hours. But let’s move on to my other favorite scenes: the amazing scene in the Mandu scene with all the little things Gu did to worship Mijeong!!!
I love that scene with a burning passion. It was probably the highlight of their entire relationship- they finally made up, and he showed her such kindness that it made me so happy and nearly burst into tears.
My other favorite moment that I was bawling out loud for was Mijeong’s dream finally coming true, of Gu sitting there as she edited her designs for her STUPID, BRAINLESS boss in the cafe. It was totally worth the long scenes in the first few episodes, where she was sitting in the cafe editing, without any explanation. I was confused why she did that every time her boss yelled at her, but it makes so much sense now: every time she felt bad, she’d work at a cafe and pretend someone who cared was there beside her to support her, and Gu was able to make that dream come true!!!
Ok, one more favorite scene: Changhee in his first ride in the car. I think that might’ve been one of the best moments, it was just so cathartic to see the pure joy out of one of the most pitiful, unsatisfied, angry-with-the-world characters of the entire series. I find both Changhee and Gijeong difficult to like at times, but very easy to relate to. I can totally understand in that moment Changhee’s shouting and gasps of delight, like achieving something he thought he would never be able to do in his entire life. In fact all of the symbolism with the car was just beautifully done, from the first few setup scenes where Changhee begged his dad for a car, to getting Gu’s rolls Royce, to eventually damaging its bumper.
Finally, I do want to say that something I didn’t think I’d be doing was watching this drama all the way through.
I thought it would be like the drama Because This Is My First Life, where the best part was the main introvert couple, but unlike BTIMFM (which also stars Lee Min Ki by the way, go check it out!!) the side character stories were so well developed and actually realistic so that it wasn’t just the MC carrying the show.
The MC definitely had the most depth, but the other stories were worth caring about to be able to get a fuller picture of the entire world. This was something that BTIMFM wasn’t able to do well - it was too easy to just skip past all the scenes without Jiho and Sehee (BTIMFM main couple) and be right where we last left off with them. It was as if we were just following three different storylines for the three different couples, with barely any connections between them.
But in My Liberation Notes, one event here affects the other there, and we have many ensemble scenes where everyone is somehow a part of it (whether that be showing parallels of the three siblings all experiencing similar things, or them on their phones with someone else while being together with each other).
All in all, the amazing world building, Introspective and truly inspirational writing and the TOP NOTCH, FOOL PROOF ACTING makes this one of the best dramas I’ve watched so far. It is such a treat to watch, and I’m so thankful that I started it because it has taught me so much about myself and the life that id like to lead in the future.
I have only praise for Kim Jiwon (who plays Mijeong), for being the most versatile actress ever! I love her so much. I think Sokku Son (who plays Mr. Gu) did amazing as well, because he’s a difficult character to get right.
In conclusion, please watch My Liberation Notes!! It is a drama that will change your life, and inspire you to become a better person. It is deep and meaningful, and gives you thoughts and questions to keep with you as you go about your day. I recommend you all to check it out!